One week after examining pitching tools, laying out my rankings (and reasoning) in eight categories, I look at position players today. Here are my rankings in the four key hitting/speed tools that scouts use to evaluate players.
The hit tool is the most nebulous of the five major tools for position players, and it's the hardest to scout. (How often do you hear about a five-tool player, only to discover he can't hit? Well, guess what: He was a four-tool player and didn't have the one that counts.) Is the hit tool the ability to make contact? To put the ball in play in a way that it's less likely to be fielded? To make harder contact, now that we have exit-velocity data? I think it's some ambiguous combination of all of those, with a bit of plate discipline and/or pitch recognition involved as well.
But that doesn't make it any easier to identify, especially in amateur players. Even for prospects, we'll often talk about how "he can hit" and "he can't hit," but without a lot of detail, because it's hard to be specific when evaluating a skill without clear benchmarks. That said, the five guys ranked here can hit. Goldschmidt is the exemplar, a guy who hits all kinds of pitching, makes hard contact, controls all parts of the zone, and works the count. He's physical and cerebral, and I think he's as hard to pitch to as anyone in the game. Check back a year from now and Chicago Cubs rookie Kyle Schwarber might be on this list.
2. Mike Trout, OF, Angels
3. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
4. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros
5. Buster Posey, C, Giants